VALPARAISO — There haven't been many smiles around the Athletics-Recreation Center since Valparaiso leading scorer Ryan Fazekas sprained his right ankle on Jan. 8 against Bradley.
Fazekas' return didn't solve matters on Wednesday against Indiana State. Tyreke Key scored 32 points and De'Avion Washington hit two crucial 3-pointers in overtime as the Sycamores won 87-82 to hand Valparaiso its first four-game home losing streak in conference play since 1990-91.
Valparaiso held a slim lead late in regulation but missed five straight free throws as Indiana State surged back.
"I've got to think that we've had three or four conference losses at the foul line," Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. "It's tough, because we had this game, we had our chances, and we let it slip away."
Shots went down for Valparaiso after a frustrating 3-6 stretch without Fazekas, and the red-shirt junior started in his first game back. Fazekas played the game's first 8:04 before heading to the bench and opened Valparaiso's scoring with a long 3 off a low pass by Daniel Sackey.
Fazekas' lateral quickness, an area Lottich has noted that ankle injuries affect, appeared normal, and he rose up for a block on Key early in the game. Derrik Smits led Valparaiso with 23 points and 11 rebounds and said Fazekas' return opened up space, but Indiana State held Fazekas to seven points in his 34 minutes.
“I thought he moved pretty well," Lottich said. "I don't think he forced anything, which can happen when you've been out an extended period of time. I thought he played pretty well."
Valparaiso suffered a sloppy first half filled with turnovers and defensive breakdowns. The Crusaders committed a season-high 21 turnovers, and Javon Freeman-Liberty struggled despite playing his best basketball of the season lately.
“I thought we were loose with the basketball, especially to start the game," Lottich said. "We had some turnovers, but we're gonna learn from it. We've got no choice but to move forward."
Indiana State (13-12, 5-8 Missouri Valley Conference) made 6 of 11 attempts from 3 in the first half and built a 10-point lead before Valparaiso (13-13, 6-7) rallied. Sackey and Markus Golder used their quick feet to force consecutive stops, and the Crusaders used a 9-2 run at the end of the half to close within 39-36 at halftime.
It didn't take long for Valparaiso to take the lead in the second half. The hosts got out in transition after Sycamore missed shots and turnovers, and Smits laid the ball in to put the Crusaders up 44-43 after Sackey's fast-break layup rolled off the rim.
Valparaiso twice built modest leads midway through the second, but Indiana State stayed in the game. The Sycamores held Valparaiso without a field goal for 3:38 and re-took the lead, but Bakari Evelyn broke the drought with a 3 and Smits flipped in a layup while falling backward under the rim.
Fazekas knocked down a pair of free throws with 46 seconds left to give Valparaiso a 71-69 lead, but Key answered with two of his own. Evelyn and Freeman-Liberty both missed jumpers on the Crusaders' last possession of regulation, and Washington put Indiana State up 79-72 early in overtime on his second 3.
The loss sent Valparaiso below .500 in league play for the first time this season.
“I think it's gut-check time for us right now, honestly," Valparaiso guard Deion Lavender said. "We've got five games left before the conference tournament, so right now, we're either gonna have to figure it out or we're gonna have to keep taking losses. And I don't think anybody on this team wants to keep taking losses."